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A Slave Memorial Now Stands Amid State's Tributes to Confederacy

History: South Carolina to dedicate $1-million monument this week. Nearby, the rebel flag still flies.

March 25, 2001|JIM DAVENPORT | ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina dedicates its monument to African American history this week on a Statehouse grounds filled with reminders of the Confederacy.

The semicircular arms of gray granite reach out to embrace a depiction of a slave ship's crammed cargo hold and a map of Africa. They are lined with 12 bronze panels illustrating 300 years of history.

In the middle of the $1-million monument rises a 13-ton, 23-foot obelisk and pedestal.

Benches along the walls invite people to sit and think, and maybe look at the Confederate flag. Now down from atop the Statehouse, it still flies at the nearby Confederate Soldiers' Monument. That has prompted the NAACP to continue its tourism boycott of the state.

Sculptor Ed Dwight, whose work will be dedicated Thursday, knows the surroundings and the symbolism well. He chuckled as he looked at a statue of Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton, a former governor and senator who helped dismantle Reconstruction.

"The idea of this happening would kind of make that guy over there upset," Dwight said.

The Denver sculptor's numerous works around the nation celebrating black history include the Underground Railroad memorial at the Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich. He also is building the Black Patriots' Memorial for the National Mall in Washington.

On South Carolina's Statehouse grounds, his work sits near bronze stars that show where cannonballs from Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's artillery hit. It is also near monuments that honor politicians with ties to the state's segregationist past, as well as Confederate generals and soldiers and the Daughters of the Confederacy.

For schoolchildren, the monument will be "a time machine," Dwight said. "I start back in Charleston in 1600 and I come all the way to South Carolina today with the many accomplishments of African Americans."

The strife of slaves, many of whom entered this country through Charleston, and some of whom helped build the Statehouse, are important to him.

"Getting into the insides of slavery and the mechanisms of slavery is something that is so moving," Dwight said. "You want to get up on a top of a mountain and start screaming and hollering and telling people all this stuff."

The four-year job of getting the monument approved, planned and built came as the Legislature struggled over what to do with the Confederate flag on the Statehouse dome. At first, the monument's fate was tied to a bill that moved the flag from the dome to the soldiers' memorial.

Fund-raising began in 1998. Much of the money came from individuals in small donations. That included passing the hat at the groundbreaking a year ago.

One white man from Columbia sent a few dollars every two weeks, said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a black Democrat and vice chairwoman of the African-American History Monument Commission.

"To me, he epitomizes what this monument is about. Because it's not about black South Carolina or white South Carolina. It's about the history of South Carolina," she said.

The message of the monument "is accomplishment in the face of impediment. These people followed this historical track which led them to the vanguard of the civil rights movement," said state Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, chairman of the monument commission.

The Charleston Republican operates a Confederate art shop and is one of the Legislature's staunchest defenders of the Confederacy and its trappings.

For him, the history lesson that surrounds the Statehouse is now complete: "The struggle for liberty, the struggle for state rights and the struggle for civil rights--all portrayed in a circle of history here."

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